A key part of Manchester Royal Exchange theatre’s local exchange programme, The Den is a new pop-up theatre funded by a £1m gift from the Oglesby Charitable Trust, this inventive performance space was designed by architectural studio Haworth Tompkins as an informal space-within-a-space for residents to make and share theatre and to see work from the Royal Exchange.

Pro audio specialist Autograph Sales & Installations provided key elements of the sound reinforcement equipment for the new space, including seven EX10 compact, full range active loudspeaker systems from KV2 Audio, and an Allen & Heath Qu-16 rackmountable digital mixer.

The Den pop-up theatreSorcha Steele, head of sound at the Royal Exchange, was responsible designing the audio system for The Den, a task she found daunting given the scope of requirements for the space and the range of possibilities before her: ‘I had to give a lot of thought to what we are using the space for, who is going to be operating it and how easy is it to rig and put together the system within the space quickly and easily,’ she recalls.

‘The first thing I had to consider was the type of venue it will be going to, and how that impacts on things like power supplies and cable runs.

‘The Den will only ever go into existing buildings – it’s not designed to be outdoors; for example, in Stalybridge it was in the old market hall, but it could be constructed in a school gym or warehouse. In all likelihood, power in those venues will come down to standard 13A sockets, so I had to design a system to run off of that infrastructure.

‘The Den can also be constructed in three different sizes, so the system needed to be flexible enough to cater for that. With the programme being different each time it goes out, I also had to plan to cover everything from spoken word to small bands and everything in between.’

The Den pop-up theatreUltimately, Sorcha settled on a KV2 solution built on the EX10 compact, high-output active speaker system flown from a circular truss above the centre of the performance area.

‘With my experience of working with KV2 EX10 units over the past few years, I have always found them to be a very versatile unit so I knew they could deliver the quality I wanted,’ she observes. ‘Part of our remit as technicians on this project is to also encourage others from the community to get involved with the tech side of things and to show that there are other careers in theatre that don’t involve performing on stage.

‘Having a system that is easy to put together while we take them through basic signal flow makes the whole process less intimidating for them. The EX10s are quick and easy to set up, the sound quality is truly excellent, and the fact that they are active means that we don’t have any amp racks to worry about, which was perfect for this application.

‘That’s also the reason we chose the Allen & Heath Qu-16. It’s a powerful console for its size, and the surface and menu structure make it really easy to explain what we’re doing as we’re doing it. Being able to connect our QLab system directly over USB is also a bonus as it streamlines the workflow to something that young technicians and community members can understand. Being compact also makes our ops area relatively small so there are more seats available for people to experience the performances and take part in what we do.’

Overall, The Den has been deemed a huge success: ‘The local community in Stalybridge really got involved and supported the project with great enthusiasm. We had a variety of performances from all age groups, held workshops and got to eat ice-cream in the sun.’

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